New Regency topper keeps pix rolling to fill WB pipeline

Figure this one out: As of last Friday, Columbia Pictures was lensing one picture. Universal had two in the works, as did 20th Century Fox. Meanwhile, Arnon Milchan was shooting four, with another three in post-production and at least six in pre-production.

Arnon Milchan?

The relatively obscure indie producer, who has pitched his New Regency tent on the Warner Bros. lot, has not only become more productive than some of Hollywood’s studios, he’s emerged as the most prolific foreign producer to hit town since Dino De Laurentiis.

Milchan, who spends much of his time in Paris or globetrotting for investment capital, still finds time to court top Hollywood talent and produce a crop of pix to help feed the WB distribution machine.

“I consider Arnon more than just a supplier of movies to us,” says Bruce Berman, Warner Bros. president of worldwide production. “I consider Arnon a partner.”

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New Regency has a mixed record at the box office, with hits “JFK,””Under Siege” and “Sommersby”; and misses “Memoirs of an Invisible Man,””The Mambo Kings” and “The Power of One.”

But the Israeli has proved the antithesis of the typical Hollywood indie producer: Thriving in the face of economic adversity and making big-budget films without a major glitch, even when a significant thread of his foreign production capital was snipped. He says he’s done 20 movies in 18 months.

Part of that success is because Milchan and New Regency president Steve Reuther run their own show and don’t have to answer to any committee. Talent is attracted to decisive and well-heeled producers beyond the reach of Hollywood’s gridlocked development bureaucracy.

Money man

And also because Milchan excels at raising outside cash. So far, he’s scored more hits than misses — albeit misses that were big enough for one of his foreign partners, Canal Plus, to duck and run on future equity financing of his projects.

But he rebounded by scoring two other Euro distribution relationships with the French cable TV giant.

And where Canal Plus left off in production equity, Milchan will count on cash flow from film revenues and expanded credit lines with Germany’s Berliner Bank and Bayer Hypotheken Und Wechsel-Bank AG.

And while the wheeler-dealer has been courting Canal Plus on other fronts, he says he’s also in the midst of romancing British producer Jeremy Thomas and Jake Eberts’ Allied Filmmakers to join his Summit Export Group as partners.

Milchan says he hopes to expand Summit — the 2-year-old sales venture between Milchan’s Regency, Andy Vajna’s Cinergi Prods. and Bernd Eichinger’s Neue Constantin Film — into a “United Artists of sorts.”

Eberts says through a spokesman that he’s had conversations with Milchan “off and on” over the past year or so, but that “no firm decision has been made.” Thomas, who would not comment on any discussions with Milchan, says he is “making new arrangements” for foreign sales distribution.

Groundswell at AFM

Word of the Milchan momentum began to spread at the recent American Film Market in Santa Monica. So did Milchan’s efforts to rebuild his ties with Canal Plus.

Insiders say New Regency just clinched a 20-picture distribution deal for TV rights with Canal Plus in Spain. Although Milchan refused to spill the details, he says the alliance contradicts widespread talk here that Canal Plus will split from New Regency altogether.

Canal Plus executives in Paris, upset by the continued speculation, refused to comment on “rumors not based on fact.”

In fact, accounts differ on what triggered the Regency-Canal Plus restructuring.

Sources close to both companies say Canal Plus began to waffle on terms of the 1991 deal after three pix performed poorly. Instead of equity financing on all films as originally promised, Canal Plus wanted the right to cherrypick films. Milchan said no.

Others contend Canal Plus’s decision went much deeper. The company, they say, was reviewing its overall U.S. film investment strategy after being stung on its hefty stake in Carolco Pictures. Studio Canal Plus’s cash flow had become strained largely because of that investment. That heightened concerns about all investments in the U.S., including New Regency.

“I don’t think people really understand what happened with the original agreement, which may be the reason for this rumor,” Milchan says. He says Canal Plus had an option to curtail its equity participation after 10 pix, which was later increased to 14.

Still equity partner

Milchan also noted that Canal Plus is an equity partner in “Falling Down, “”Sommersby,””Boys on the Side” and “Made in America,” the $ 30 million May 28 release starring Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson. Milchan is so confident the pic will be a hit, he plans to start shooting a sequel by year’s end, and is considering a TV series.

“Canal Plus wanted to concentrate on buying rights for France. So I said OK. Now I co-finance them, helping them acquire rights to films in Europe in a new co-venture,” he said. That venture was formed as a result of the restructuring. “We have a very friendly relationship, not the sort of things you are hearing.”

The sort of things heard around town were Canal Plus’s purported displeasure with Milchan taking a $ 1 million-plus producer fee and a smaller risk, while retaining greenlight approval and controlling all of the accounting on the projects.

“I don’t want to discuss my fees. But I will say I’m in line with the best of them. My fees depend on the size of the budget but they are fair,” Milchan says.

“You have to remember this is my own company. It is a private company so why shouldn’t I control the accounting and greenlight the pictures? I put up my money on these pictures as well. And I own the negatives.”

Other backers

But Canal Plus is not Regency’s sole foreign backer. The 20-picture production and distribution pact, bolstered by $ 600 million in production funding, was also backed by Germany’s Scriba & Deyhle, as well as Warner Bros.

Since that agreement was made, German partners Rolf Deyhle and Bodo Scriba split up. In January Deyhle teamed with longtime associate Willi Baer in a new company, while Scriba chose to remain with Regency. Scriba also took over Alcor Film & TV, which has profit participation in Regency’s international distribution and holds rights to pix in some territories.

Some of Milchan’s detractors are not surprised at the latest wrinkles in the Regency deal. Agents, talent and business partners who have worked on projects with Milchan point to the producer’s somewhat colorful past, including allegations in the Israeli press that he was one of that country’s largest arms dealers.

“I don’t think I have any skeletons in my closet. People always like to talk about my background,” he says, adding that being an Israeli, “I was very proud to help my country but I did nothing wrong. That was 15 years ago.”

Some agents say he takes credit when it should be passed on to Reuther, who runs the day-to-day operation. “Steve gets credits on a lot of movies –‘Pretty Woman,’ ‘Under Siege,’ ‘Mambo Kings,’ ‘Power of One,’ ” says Milchan.

Jumping to Milchan’s defense is Rob Friedman, president of WB worldwide advertising and publicity: “Arnon is clearly very much an outfront guy who is very involved in the creative process and deserves the credit. … We couldn’t be happier with the relationship, and we hope it goes on forever.”